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Dunvegan Castle


The castle and designed landscape are set in a dramatic position on the shores of Loch Dunvegan on Skye. The landscape comprises woodland gardens with rhododendrons, a late-19th-century formal garden with a clipped box parterre, a walled garden with walls dating from the early-19th century, and a water garden that was developed in the late-20th century. The water garden is fed by a waterfall and is planted with a wealth of water-loving perennials which can be viewed from the network of paths and bridges.

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:


Type of Site

No information available.

Location and Setting

Dunvegan Castle is set on the north-west coast of Skye, sheltered in the southern inlet of Loch Dunvegan. It is, directly, some 14.5 miles (23km) from Portree as the crow flies but considerably further along the A850 coastal road across the north of Skye. The A850 begins at old Dunvegan pier, encloses the policies of the Castle and joins the A863 to the south at Dunvegan village. The site is bounded on its other, western side, by the loch. Soils are acid, and the variety of plants that can be grown is dependent upon the availability of shelter. Cnoc Mor rises steeply to the east of the Castle, and the lower slopes are planted with coniferous woodland. The burn of Abhuinn Dubh Bhreac cuts down through the woodlands and enters Dunvegan Loch in the small bay to the south of the Castle. The setting provides dramatic views of Dunvegan Loch and its coastline and the small islands in the loch. The woodlands are an important scenic feature in the surrounding moorland and mountain landscape, but they screen the Castle and gardens from view from the landward side. The Castle is designed to be viewed from the loch where it presents an imposing and striking facade, standing on the edge of the cliffs above the loch.

The Castle was started in the 13th century and probably was built on the site of an earlier fortification. It was sited for defensive purposes on a rocky basalt promontory, with water on three sides and a causeway to the east side linking it with the mainland. The site is exposed to the westerly winds and with very little low-lying ground on which to lay out a designed landscape; the extent has remained the same since the woodlands were planted and is the same today as was shown on the 1st edition OS map of c.1870. The policies are enclosed by the loch and the roadside and the gardens have been developed within this area; however, plantations extend eastwards up the lower slopes of Cnoc Mor and these provide a backdrop to the views from the east side of the Castle. There are 42 acres (17ha) in the designed landscape today.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

The Castle, of mainly mid-19th century appearance, was remodelled in 1840 by Robert Brown Jnr; it is listed A. The east front has an entrance in the form of a gatehouse with two octagonal Gothic towers on either side of the porch. There are two bridges in the policies, the causeway bridge, and a smaller late 18th century, single-arched bridge. The Gatepiers, erected by tenants and MacLeod clansmen in 1938 in memory of the three MacLeod brothers, Norman, Reginald and Roderick, have a pair of wrought-iron gates and screen walls bearing the memorial plaque; they are listed B. The laundry, formerly the Factor's house, is dated 1754 and is listed A. The Walled Garden and the 16th century sundial within it are listed B, as are the stables and saw mill. Dunvegan Pier is early 19th century and is listed C(S).


Most of the woodlands east of the A850 are coniferous plantations, while those to the west of the road are mainly deciduous species. Some older beech are left in the wood north of the castle but trees in this area have suffered from severe windshear. Birch has naturalised in sheltered areas, and there are also mature oak, ash, beech with an understorey of Rhododendron ponticum. Some areas have been cleared and replanted with conifers.

Woodland Garden

The woodland walk extends to the north of the Castle, through silver birch, ash, rowan, gorse and old Rhododendrons. New paths have been cleared by young members of the Clan MacLeod at the time of the Clan Parliament in 1982. Tracks lead to a viewpoint across the inlet to the Castle and a seat has been placed here. The woodland garden extends to the A850 from the Castle, and a gate leads directly from the road down to the gardens. The paths are lined with Rhododendrons, many of them remaining from the 1920's planting. A path runs south to the Formal, Water and Walled Gardens. There used to be a summerhouse to the east of the Water Garden but this has since been lost.

Water Features

The focus of this garden is the spectacular waterfall falling over a sheer cliff of basalt and descending in several channelled rivulets through the water garden which has intertwining paths and bridges across the streams. It is planted up with water-loving species and presents a beautiful display of Primulas, Meconopsis, Hostas, ferns and Gunnera in season. There is a second waterfall which would benefit from clearance of Fuchsia and other shrubs which are overgrowing it. New ornamental planting has been undertaken recently, including a Tulip Tree.

The Gardens

This area, laid out originally in the late 19th century, is now mainly lawn with a few specimen trees including a monkey puzzle and a large yew. A parterre of clipped box hedges forms the centrepiece of this garden which is bedded out annually. A good beech hedge surrounds the garden and seats are provided.

Walled Garden

The large square walled garden was put in around 1810 to the south of the Castle, although Boswell refers to an earlier orchard surrounded by low walls in 1773. The garden is now mainly disused, although part of it is still used for growing cut flowers, and fruit bushes are still espaliered along part of the wall. There is a garden cottage at the south end, and the glasshouses lie to the north of the garden.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts


01470 521206

Access contact details

The site is open daily between April and October. It is open in the winter months to groups by appointment. Please see:


The Castle can be reached by bus.


The Chiefs of MacLeod


The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:


Reason for Inclusion

The castle and designed landscape are set on the shores of Loch Dunvegan on Skye, in some of the most dramatic scenery in the country. The landscape comprises woodland, formal garden, walled garden, and an impressive water garden. The walled garden was built early in the 19th century, but there are no records to confirm when the gardens were laid out. Dunvegan Castle is the home of the Chief of Clan Macleod, as it has been for more than 750 years.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

No information available.

Site History

There are no available design plans for the grounds, and documentary evidence relies on the 1st & 2nd edition OS maps; there are no known designers associated with the landscape design at Dunvegan.

Dunvegan has been home to the chief of Clan MacLeod for 750 years and the Castle is still occupied today by the Chief and his family. The original fort built in the late 13th century was enclosed by a massive curtain wall with a single, easily defended, lochside entrance. It was replaced by a keep built in 1340-60 by the 3rd Chief, Malcolm. The 8th Chief, Alasdair added the Fairy Tower at the south-east corner of the rock, to which Rory Mor's House was added in 1623. This was rebuilt in the late 17th century by his grandson the 18th Chief, and the south wing was added at this period. The first landward Front Door was made in 1748 as recorded by James Boswell in 1773 when he accompanied Dr Johnson on his visit to the Hebrides. A long flight of steps was required to reach the door above the ditch at this time, and these are shown in Pennant's illustration of 1772. This also shows a small woodland in the glen to the east of the Castle, but most of the surrounding area is bare moorland scenery. Boswell recorded a conversation between the travellers and Lady MacLeod in which the latter bemoaned the lack of any place near the Castle where a good garden could be made.

The Castle was remodelled in 1790 by the 23rd Chief, Norman, known as the General, who commissioned the architect William Boak to carry out the work. A small bridge was built across the burn before the General's death in 1801, and his son, John Norman, added a new causeway and ornamental drawbridge to it. He also built the stables and the walled garden. Subsequent restoration was made in 1840 by Robert Brown for the 25th Chief, and in 1940 by Colin Sinclair, and the final appearance of the Castle is of a large traditional four-storey stronghold, with a crenellated parapet with corbelled turrets to all angles. It was described in the 1880s as 'an amorphous mass of masonry of every conceivable style of architecture in which the 19th century jostles the 9th'. The policies were planted up by the General in the latter half of the 19th century and the structure of the designed landscape has remained similar since then although over 40,000 trees were blown down in the gales of 1921. Much replanting was carried out by the 27th Chief, Sir Reginald. An area of garden is shown on the 1st edition OS map to the north of the walled garden and a tree nursery is shown to its east but there are no available records of how these gardens were originally laid out.

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland


  • Castle (featured building)
  • Description: The original castle dates from the late-13th century. It was extensively remodelled in the mid-19th century.
  • Parterre
  • Planting
  • Description: Water garden
  • Ornamental Bridge
  • Kitchen Garden
  • Pergola
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Open to the public


Electoral Ward

Skye West




  • Historic Scotland